The 2020 Census — Can We Count On It Or Not?

Portrait Of Family Standing Outside Home

Since the announcement of this intention, several individuals and organizations have expressed their criticism and members of the Business community, including the Marketing & Advertising industry have joined the conversation concerned with the potential consequences of this addition to the Census’ questionnaire.  By Isaac Mizrahi – Co-President of ALMA

Their primary concern is the misrepresentation of a significant number of residents, mainly among the Latino and Asian communities, who historically have a substantial share of their U.S. population coming from immigrants. The latest estimate from the Census is that approximately 39% of Latinos and 59% of Asians living in the U.S. are first-generation immigrants.

Critics of the citizenship question inclusion fear that this question, combined with the already volatile debate around immigration will lead to respondent’s apathy, as undocumented respondents will face three options; either tell the truth, lie about their status or opt out of answering it, which means that two-thirds of the potential outcomes indicate tampering with the data.

However, this is not a matter that exclusively concerns the estimated 12 million undocumented residents in this country. Even documented immigrants like green card holders and naturalized citizens are expressing concerns with how the data gathered by the Census could be used as residents may be losing faith in government officials and may be afraid of answering the questionnaire altogether.

The potential adverse impacts of misrepresenting part of the country’s population in the Census are far and beyond social and political environments only. For instance, media audience measurement uses Census data to establish the universe of viewers and its composition.

Furthermore, a significant undercount of the population due to a depressed number of minority respondents may decrease marketing investments in these segments, limiting one of the few areas of growths in sales, market share and profits Corporate America has been experiencing in the past decades.

Therefore, business organizations are working to elevate the debate to create awareness of the consequences of undercounting the number of residents.

I spoke with Gilbert D’Avila, CEO of DMI Consulting and cofounder of the Association of National Advertisers’ Alliance for Inclusion & Multicultural Marketing (AIMM), representing the country’s top advertisers and asked him why Corporate America is concerned with the inclusion of the citizenship question. He said:

The citizenship question in the 2020 Census could most likely lead to an undercount of residents in the U.S. by as many as 23-30 million persons. The undercount would affect data projections used by companies in the U.S. to make decisions about investment allocations, store locations, goods and services needed to serve the right number of people in a given area, the number of cellphone towers needed so that people’s phones have a connection, among many others. It would prevent companies from maximizing their growth and prevent consumers to receive the goods and services they need in a timely and efficient manner.”

I also spoke with Cesar Melgoza, the founder and CEO of Geoscape, a data-driven provider of business intelligence with significant expertise in multicultural marketing, and he said:

Given the administration’s track record of singling out certain migrants from access to America, it is likely the information will be used to promote an agenda of exclusion. Millions of non-citizens reside in the U.S. legally and contribute to our economic prosperity — many are employed by local and national security organizations.”

Today, several business organizations including the ANA and the Culture Marketing Council (full disclosure, I am a board member of the CMC) have urged their members to express their concerns during the open period for public comments. While the Census is still more than a year away, the creation of its questionnaire should be completed by the end of the year. If you’re interested, the period of public considerations is open until August 7 and you can use this link to leave your comments.

Today we live in a polarized society where most of the topics give margin to passionate partisan debate. The Census shouldn’t be one of them, let’s count our total population and allow our society, including the private sector to benefit from reliable data to make their best business decisions. After all, America’s business commitment is one of the reasons of our resilient economy, let’s hope for common sense to prevail and make sure all voices are counted.

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